7 Misconceptions About Having Sex With A Physical Disability

"Don't hesitate to make me feel wanted and desired because of your presumptions about my body.”
zianlob via Getty Images

Having a healthy sexual appetite and a physical disability aren’t mutually exclusive.

Far too many people assume that all people with disabilities don’t have the same desire for pleasure or the physical capability to engage in sex. Below, disability advocates share some of the worst misconceptions they’ve encountered about their love lives.

1. Disabled people don’t feel sexual desire.

“I have Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OI), which is a brittle bones condition. From my experience, there’s a misconception that disabled people do not want or desire sex ― that is a lie! We want intimacy in the same regard as anyone else. Why would being disabled nullify that aspect of our human existence? Sex is a right for those who desire it, not a luxury that is to be afforded to only non-disabled people.” ― Vilissa Thompson, a disability rights consultant, social worker and founder of Ramp Your Voice, a self-advocacy and empowerment movement for people with disabilities

2. And their sex organs don’t work.

“I have muscular dystrophy. Over the years, I have spent a lot of time in chatrooms, forums and on dating sites. It always amuses me what people assume and how bold people will be with asking such things. Would you ask a random person on the street such a question? For the sake of clarity, most people with physical disabilities can experience the same sorts of sensations as the general population. It just so happens that not everyone’s body operates the same or receives pleasure the same way, so just like with any other new partner, it’s about working together to learn what works and getting to have fun along the way.” ― Tegan Morris, an educator and advocate on issues relating to inclusive practices and disability awareness in New Zealand

3. Sex usually hurts.

“I have cerebral palsy. It’s different for everybody but my specific case limits the mobility in my legs and weakens my arms slightly. One misconception is the fear of hurting me during sex. All physical disabilities manifest differently, but at this point in my life, I do not experience pain on a daily basis. So you’re not going to cause pain just by touching me. I want to be (consensually) touched. And if something you do causes pain, I will tell you and politely ask you to modify. Listening is key. But do not hesitate to make me feel wanted and desired because of your presumptions about my body.” ― Ryan J. Haddad, an actor, writer, and autobiographical performer based in New York

4. It’s a struggle to find someone who will date them.

“I have an incomplete spinal cord injury, and I am partially paralyzed on my right side. I use a mobility walker to ambulate and sometimes a wheelchair. Because of that, I’ve encountered people who express surprise in my ability to have partners and relationships. Once a physical therapist said admiringly how impressed she was that I was able to find my husband with my disability, because she was able-bodied and couldn’t find one. People often have the preconceived notion that people with physical disabilities are not seen as desirable, attractive or ideal partners for others (particularly able-bodied presenting ones).” ― Robin Wilson-Beattie, a sex and disability educator and founder of sexAbled, a sexuality and disability education site

5. Consent doesn’t apply.

“We have a right to consent to sex and intimacy ― that should not be taken away from us because we are disabled. Consent means respecting when we say ‘no’ and not violating our bodies and trust by dismissing our ‘no’. Others must believe disabled people when we share and disclose that we have been sexually abused, since our community has a high prevalence of experiencing sexual violence. Too many people don’t think to include disabled people in conversations about consent. When we discuss consent and rape culture, we can’t leave disabled survivors out of the conversations and solutions being had.” ― Thompson

6. They’re not interested in flirting or dating.

“This is different for everyone but because of my condition, I get mistaken for being younger than I am and I have watched strangers be surprised when I make a dirty joke or use an innuendo in conversation. Just because we aren’t always the one to break the ice doesn’t mean we aren’t interested in flirting and fun. We have the same sex drive and interest in intimacy as the general population. I can personally say that I can range from ‘I’m horny 24/7’ at one end of the spectrum to the ‘I’m not that interested’ at the other, depending on my mood. The challenge that a lot of people with disabilities face is that we are seen as sweet and innocent and that our lives are assumed to be ‘too complicated’ to include the extra dimension of intimacy.” ― Morris

7. They don’t have a right to be choosy about romantic partners.

“People get hurt or offended when they are rejected. It is natural and happens to all of us. But I once had a man I rejected online say, ‘With all your problems, you’d be lucky to take whatever you can get.’ Excuse me, but disabled folks are human beings, too, and we have agency to make choices. We know what we want and who we want. If we are not attracted to someone, we are under no obligation to reciprocate their attraction to us. If we are not compatible with someone, we have no reason to enter a relationship that would not work. And most importantly, disability is not a problem. It is not a shortcoming. It is an identity to be proud of. We are not less than our non-disabled peers. We are equal and we have the authority to decide who we do and do not wish to allow into our lives.” ― Haddad

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